Reflections on 2021: Our community, COVID-19 and our work

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2021 has been a difficult year for everyone in the community. From the young to the old, men and women, volunteers and community leaders. This year has thrown up challenges few of us had precedents for in our life, and that includes us as MWA. We reflect on the year that was: from some of our major challenges to some of our achievements in spite of them.

Many of our reflections on the year that was are dominated by the challenges of a global pandemic that has taken a huge toll on us all.

This year, the MWA team was like most of the rest of society: caught up in and forced to shape life around the devastation caused by COVID-19 in 2021.

Since the start of the outbreak, COVID-19 has had an increasingly negative impact on the wellbeing and mental health of families in Australia, especially among culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) and refugee families, who still face significant barriers in seeking and accessing essential support and advice.

The deaths, illness, economic distress and social isolation caused by COVID-19 during 2021 in particular were widespread as four month long lockdowns swept through Sydney, upending lives and livelihoods. 

While the broader community in general were left reeling from the aftermath, the worst affected were the communities in South West and Western Sydney – areas notable for their diverse cultural, linguistic and faith-based communities – who also felt heavily targeted by COVID policies and restrictions, especially in comparison to other demographics of Sydney. 

This ostracisation, on top of other pressures, further negatively affected the mental and emotional health of these communities and resulted in an increasing demand for institutions and organisations to stand strong and deliver steadfast COVID support in a sincere, authentic and effective way. 

As part of our COVID-19 response, the MWA stepped forward to give devastated communities this support, often in lieu of adequate government help. 

We worked hard to provide hope over fear – a sense of calm and dignity in the delivery of services while advocating fiercely for the communities left behind. 

For South West Sydney families in particular, MWA saw a significant increase in referrals for financial and material relief, including rent assistance, as well as support for non-permanent citizens and temporary visa holders. In providing this aid, we aimed to relieve the severe financial impact the lockdown had on these communities, due to the higher levels of casualised workforce, sole traders and unemployment intersecting with distinct family and caring responsibilities, particularly within diversified household groupings. 

COVID-19 in general has been a catalyst for economic crisis, increasing the risk of homelessness and domestic and family violence among vulnerable family members due to job loss and financial distress. Hence it was important for MWA to continually address and alleviate such pressures among families who are most at risk.

MWA also aimed to address the significantly increased demands for mental health services in support for women in lockdown, including for young people, particularly those in their senior years of high school. For young people especially, MWA established open and varied channels of communication, listening to them, and equipping them with the skills and knowledge to be active in their own circle of influence, as well more broadly within the community, supporting community growth and strengthening community ties in an authentic way. 

Since the start of COVID-19, young people in education have had to adapt to extremely different and difficult changes, having to learn remotely and be isolated from their friends, educators and educational support. This is especially true for recently arrived individuals in Australia, or those facing uncertain or dangerous living situations due to homelessness or domestic and family violence. To combat this, MWA continued to help support families through digital literacy, COVID updates, individualised case management and helping meet the basic needs of life. 

In turn, MWA also worked hard to prioritise our domestic and family violence and homelessness intake and address the physical and social barriers preventing women and youth to seek essential support and advice. Safety, accommodation and housing needs intensified during COVID-19, intersecting with health concerns, isolation and increased fear and anxiety. Increased the vulnerability of women and children experiencing domestic and family violence was also well documented during lockdowns, and so MWA was there to support those affected from both a safety and health perspective. 

Our transitional housing was at full capacity, and we also worked towards voluntary vaccine rollout for clients in shared settings.  

Overall, MWA in 2021 oversaw the support of clients, including COVID positive patients, through ongoing and consistent communication, direct service delivery and community outreach.  

We likewise intensified our advocacy both within the sector and more generally within the community, sharing service learnings based on our experience and communicating with those in positions of power the importance of understanding the lived experience of our community. 

While this period was far from easy, we should be proud as a community for making it through and weathering past and ongoing storms together. As we reflect on a challenging year, we know that by maintaining hope, advocating for our community and bringing our patience and experience together, we can make a significant difference to helping our community heal, even through the most difficult times.

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